NEW ROADS — New Roads Mayor Robert Myer has rung up nearly $134,000 in charges on his city credit card over the past four years, records show, including thousands spent on personal purchases ranging from movie theater tickets to Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club shopping trips and restaurant visits.
Myer has reimbursed the city for $8,680 charged on the card and says that represents all but a small portion of the total $9,054 in personal expenses he has put on the card to date. And he said he has implemented a new policy that city credit cards not be used in the future for personal expenses.
But determining all Myer has charged on the city credit card over the past four years — and what he identified as personal charges to be reimbursed — is impossible to determine because receipts that would contain those specifics are missing from the city’s files in many instances.
For example, a credit card summary statement for January 2013 showed he charged $548.72 on Christmas Eve in 2012 at Wal-Mart in Baton Rouge, but there is no receipt detailing what specific items were purchased on that date.
The use of a city credit card for personal purchases and missing receipts are both problems, according to Roger Harris, director of investigative audit services for the Louisiana legislative auditor.
Harris’ office is reviewing the way the city has handled its financial affairs as is the Louisiana Inspector General’s Office.
Harris said Tuesday that the state’s constitution “frowns upon” the personal use of credit cards billed to public agencies. He referred to Article 7, Section 14 of the Louisiana Constitution, which prohibits state and local governments from loaning “funds, credit, property or things of value” to any person or public and private entity.
“If you’re letting me use a credit card, are you not loaning me funds?” Harris said Tuesday.
A mayoral candidate had questioned Myer’s use of the credit card during the recent campaign for the Nov. 4 election.
Representatives of the Legislative Auditor’s Office were poring over financial records at City Hall on Tuesday as Myer sought to explain to reporters his use of the city credit card.
The New Roads mayor appeared largely unfazed by the state’s probe, saying he views it as an opportunity to “tighten up” the city’s daily financial practices.
“I’m glad the Legislative Auditor’s Office is reviewing our finances and getting it out of the political arena it’s been in,” he said. “We always learn something from our audits. We’ve had three good audit reports since I’ve been mayor, so I expect another good one.”
Greg Phares, chief investigator with the State Inspector General’s Office, said that agency is looking into “certain expenditures” made by the city but declined to discuss details.
Phares deferred further comments to District Attorney Ricky Ward, who said Tuesday that the investigation was launched after a member of the Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury asked the Sheriff’s Office to look into the matter.
Officials would not identify which juror asked for the investigation, but Juror Cornell Dukes, who ran unsuccessfully against Myer in the Nov. 4 election, had raised questions about the mayor’s credit card use during the campaign.
Myer’s credit card use, and lack of receipts to back up expenditures, is expected to be one focus of investigators and auditors scrutinizing the city’s financial records.
Harris said representatives from his office started combing through the city’s financial records on Monday. Although he would not provide any particulars about what investigators are looking for, he did say that the city’s lack of receipts is alarming.
“Itemization of receipts allows us to see what money was used for,” Harris said. “The thing we’re trying to determine is whether something was an appropriate use of public funds.”
New Roads has already been called out in a 2013 audit report conducted by a firm the city hired for not maintaining proper oversight of its credit card use due to a lack of receipts.
Myer said Tuesday that the credit card would no longer be used for personal purchases by him or any other city employee. He said that’s something he began earlier this year after the city’s last auditor warned him the practice was a gray area.
“That’s why I say this is a good experience for the town to get a clear understanding of policies and procedures,” he said.
Myer said he thought the card could be used for personal purchases as long as he reimbursed the city for those expenses.
Monthly statements for the city credit card show it was used by Myer and other city officials for a variety of purposes, including for frequent travel — more than $34,000 on airfare, hotel stays and other travel-related expenses between 2011 and early 2014, the statements show.
The bulk of the travel expenses were for annual trips taken by the mayor, Secretary/Treasurer Lynette Nelson and councilmen Anthony Daisy and Bernadine St. Cyr to National League of Cities conferences in Washington, D.C., between 2011 and 2014.
The travel expenses also included a $790 charge to Loew’s Hotel in New Orleans for a two-night stay over the New Year’s holiday in 2012.
There were also nearly $1,700 in charges for dinners and movie tickets. Restaurant charges included a $252 charge to Chophouse New Orleans on New Year’s Day in 2012; a $178 meal at McCormick and Schmick’s in D.C. on March 12, 2014; and a $72 charge at Ichiban Sushi in Baton Rouge on Oct. 2, 2011.
Records show there were also a slew of smaller charges made at fast-food restaurants throughout the Baton Rouge area, such as McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Subway and Domino’s Pizza.
And although receipts were included for many of the food charges, they lacked any indication regarding who was dining at the restaurants and sometimes what was purchased, which is another issue Harris highlighted as a problem.
“I have a Legislative Auditor credit card, we go to lunch, we bring all our friends and end up with a bill totaling $3,000,” Harris said Tuesday. “Would the state have paid for lunch with friends? No. For our liquor? No.”
Charges to stores like Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Target total more than $4,000, the statements show.
Myer has said previously that those charges were to purchase office supplies and equipment for city-related projects.
Someone also charged approximately $530 at Barnes & Noble over the past four years. Other miscellaneous charges included $40 to the Baton Rouge Clinic in July 2011; $90 at the LSU Ticket Office in March 2012; $176 to Kadair’s Camera in November 2012; and $25 to the Dermatology Clinic in Baton Rouge in January 2013.
“In 2015, we will make it a policy to dot all the i’s and cross all our t’s following whatever recommendations comes out of this,” Myer said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done for the city.”
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